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Crocodiles in Cheshire trained to obey commands

cuvier's dwarf caimans
Image caption The crocodiles are being trained to stay still and return to the water

Crocodiles at an aquarium in Cheshire have been trained to obey the commands of their keepers.

The Blue Planet Aquarium in Ellesmere Port said the two reptiles could open and close their mouths and hold out their front legs on demand.

The male and female cuvier's dwarf caimans have also been taught to respond to their names, to stay still and to return to the water, it added.

The training programme is based on a similar scheme in India.

Blue Planet Aquarium's Adam Mitchell said: "We are one of the very few places in the world that have trained our crocodilians. Not a lot of people do it.

Target stick

"It enables us to move them and put them in transport crates and do medical procedures without having to restrain them, which would potentially stress them out.

"Plus handling a dangerous animal can also be dangerous for us."

Image caption The cuvier's dwarf caimans are the smallest of the crocodilian species

The crocodiles, a male called Paleo and a female called Suchus, have been trained using a target stick which they associate with food.

"It is more or less the same thing that you would do with a domestic dog," Mr Mitchell explained.

"You associate a behaviour with a reward and that's exactly what we are doing with these guys.

"They will follow the target wherever it goes, so we can safely move them, say into a box."

The training, which is based on a programme at the Madras Crocodile Trust in India, means the crocodiles can be examined without having to be handled.

"The stay stick enables us to do specific medical procedures such as check their feet and check underneath their tail.

"I also make them stand up on their hind legs, which does sound like a bit of a circus trick, but it is the best way to check there are no wounds on their undersides."

The cuvier's dwarf caimans are the smallest of the crocodilian species, growing to between 1.2m and 1.5m in length and can live to 40 years or more.

They are found throughout South America in freshwater habitats like rivers, flooded forests and lakes.

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